Friday, October 1, 2010

Part 2 - Reflection

I did what so many said I couldn't or wouldn't do.  I finished the PCT on September 18... 5 months and 2 days after I began it.
Yes, I am a different person than the me who started, the me who left Atlanta, the me who gave you a hug goodbye.

Reflecting on the past 5 months is hard, everyday my thoughts change.  I leave feeling and thinking differently about what those months meant to me and where I want to be for the next 5 months everyday.  To make it easy for everyone... life off the trail is slow, sad, depressing, and filled with gaining weight, nap time, and walking on sore feet, cracking joints, and callused toes that have lost nerve sensations.  
Waking up at 5:30 in the morning was terrific, but now there is nothing to do, no trail to walk, no early morning sunrise over a gorgeous mountain range, no tent next door, no hiker groans nearby.  I hear the beginnings of the trash trucks, dogs barking, the next door neighbor's 3 yr old beginning to cry like the rooster at Stehikin... except the trail is finished.  I treat myself to sleeping in, 8:30am rolls around and my body complains...inactivity hurts.  Starving I must rise on legs that can barely hold me up.  I lean onto the walls, the chairs, making my way to the stairs, a roller coaster for muscle coordination.  The pain, the muscles twitch... the feet scream.  Downstairs I grab breakfast. Marveling at the refrigerator that keeps my yogurt and raspberries cold, I hop to the chairs on bloated feet I don't recognize.  Yurtman asks if I want coffee or tea... and within minutes the water on the stove is boiling.  There was no discussion over where my stove was, who's fuel would get used, and if I would be providing the purified water. It's all in the kitchen.  CLEAN WATER!  STOVE WITH FUEL!  CABINETS WITH TEA AND COFFEE!!!  

Do you realize what a gifted life we take for granted?  When was the last time you shit in the woods?  When was the last time you packed out a week's worth of food, toilet paper, or purified your water so you wouldn't come down with a stomach disease?    What's the longest period of time you went without a shower?  Do you know what bad hygiene really is?  Have your feet ever been black for the dirt and mud you tramped through?  Have you ever washed clothes then put them in a bucket and they're still dirty?  

To enter the grocery store last week and look down the frozen aisle I realized this meant I could buy something to eat for next week.  I could buy that gallon of milk I'd been craving and it would be okay if it took me more than one hour to drink it.  But I couldn't buy whole milk, because it had too much fat.  I will need to watch my calories... and eat less.  How strange to eat everything and anything for a full year, and now try to diet.  Alien.  At the checkout I reached for 6 snickers bars.  I had to put them back.  What person eats Snickers bars off the trail and doesn't gain weight?  

You may say I am over exaggerating but being off the trail is like losing a loved one no one has ever met. You feel the withdrawal of a close companion, a friend who pushed you to greater strides, better views, and tested your resolve.  Now you have graduated, you have finished it's tests, dealt with the rain gear, experienced dehydration, and have become one with the ice axe.  Now, you're done.  You are left standing completely alone, with no friends in front or behind you. There is no pack on your back, the tent stays in it's stuff sack, the trekking poles have been leaning against the front door jam for a week, and you have no desire to move.  No desire to admit that deep down, leaving that trail was as hard as getting on.  Denial hits, yes I did something I consider amazing, and I want so bad to go back... but I don't want to.  I hurt.  My body is tired. My brain is tired. My heart is tired.  I gave it everything I had.  I lived in the moment of PCT life for 5 months,  and my reserves are empty.  I met people who changed my views on life, kissed someone I wish to kiss again, cried over scratches I watched turn to scars, questioned the meaning of life, and changed sharp corners to callused edges.  I am more connected to myself yet more alone than ever before.

There are no saints on the trail. No one is better, no one gets a raise, no one pats you on the back.  The people with ultra light weight gear, the people who walk slower, are all just people.  It is YOUR trail, YOUR hike... it is what you make it.  I am not perfect.  I fall down, I trip, I slide down sidewalks slick with rain.  My gear isn't especially lightweight, I don't hike especially fast, but I did finish the trail and I finished my hike.  This doesn't make me better or different than anyone else, I just took my equipment, walked at my pace, and eventually after lots of time and many many steps... I got down the trail to the end.

I enjoyed every minute, every break, every person I met, every tree I saw, every rattlesnake that made me jump. 

I'm still coming to grips with the aftermath. Reflection sounds so light-hearted. Truly though it's filled with pain, pride, slight regret, and thoughts of friends you may never see again.  

Thank you for reading about my adventures.  The comments and emails I got were so encouraging and I wouldn't have been able to finish without your support.  Also, thank you for getting curious, changing your route, turning around, and stopping to pick me up when I stood on the road alone with a thumb out... THANK YOU!!!

I am working on putting together a complete story of this strange trip that turned into a search for sanity. A trip that like life is a slow beginning.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your reflections on such a journey. I have been looking for this kind of insight. It is an uncommon ability you have with the written word to express thought, emotion, basically your heart. Congratulations on your journey, may peace and contentment be your portion.